Second-wave Nassar victims seek parity in MSU settlements
When Michigan State's new president takes office in six weeks, he will face more than 100 victims of serial pedophile Larry Nassar who have not settled with the university and believe they aren't being treated fairly.
The women, who came forward during the later stages of the sex abuse scandal, are known as the "second wave" because they filed lawsuits after the university reached a historic $500 million settlement with 332 Nassar victims in May 2018.
MSU set aside $425 million for those women who initially sued the university, and they have gotten their settlement checks. The remaining $75 million was earmarked for future claims against the university, most of which are still outstanding because lawyers for second-wave victims say there is not enough money for equitable settlements.
That's because 172 women filed lawsuits against MSU during the second wave after the Legislature opened a 90-day window for Nassar victims to file civil sexual assault lawsuits.
Though some of the second-wave victims have settled with MSU, the majority have not because they have to split the $75 million, an amount that some second-wave victims and lawyers considerinadequate when compared to the amount that MSU split among the first wave of victims.
While individual settlements are confidential, attorneys for the second wave of victims say the average settlement is $1.2 million for the women who came forward earlier in the scandal while the average for those who came forward later would be around $400,000.
"That amount is woefully inadequate," said Gary Bender, an Okemos-based lawyer who is representing 13 second-wave victims.
Other attorneys say that what MSU set aside for later claimants is not fair or right, especially since most of them were minors when Nassar abused them.
About 40 attorneys representing these victims formed a coalition to seek more funding and entered talks in February with MSU under a federal judge. Their goals included having a third-party mediator approve payouts to victims.
But MSU said it did not want to put more money into this pool and the talks failed, said Mary Pat Rosen, a Royal Oak attorney who is representing three second-wave survivors.
The lawyers for the second wave also have filed claims in the Michigan Court of Claims and asked the Michigan Auditor General to investigate; that request was declined.
Michigan State has been telling some Nassar victims that "their lives are worth less than others," Rosen said.
"All we are asking MSU to do is to treat the wave two of the survivors the same as wave one," Rosen said. "Their injuries and damages and what happened to them is still the same. But Michigan Sate is saying: 'We don’t have any more money to give.' That’s where the logjam is. Our survivors want to be treated the same, but they are not."
Emily Guerrant, spokeswoman for Michigan State, said MSU has settled with 55 of the wave-two victims, and is trying to settle with the remaining 117 women.
"We are still working within the parameters of that $75 million that was set aside in the agreement," said Guerrant. "We continue to be focused on it. It’s a priority for us to settle with all of them."
Rosen said MSU's $500 million settlement lowered the university's bond rating since the school had to borrow money to fund it, and the university is still fighting its insurers in court to get them to help pay.
Additionally, Rosen said, the coalition has questioned if MSU was aware it was underfunding the future claims portion of the $500 million settlement since the university knew medical records existed for at least 100 other patients of Nassar.
"What we are truly hoping is since they resolved the cases with wave one in the way they did, they will find it in their hearts to resolve these cases without putting these girls thorough more turmoil," Rosen said. "But right now they are not doing that."
In the wake of the Nassar scandal, the Michigan Legislature passed several laws to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again, including a measure extending the statute of limitations for victims to file civil sexual assault claims.
Typically, state law allows civil claims to be filed up to three years after an incident. But in June 2018, lawmakers created an exception for victims of sexual assault who were minors between 1996 and 2006, allowing them to file suits through Sept. 10, 2018.
Among those who came forward during the second wave is Kelly Buchanan, a recent MSU graduate who was assaulted by Nassar beginning when she was a 13-year-old gymnast.
Buchanan considered coming forward when young women began accusing Nassar of sexually assaulting them during medical treatments. But she remembers people she trusted telling her that the sports doctor's name would be cleared and she would look foolish if she joined the accusers.
Buchanan eventually told her family and friends about the assaults.
But it took her more time than most of the other Nassar victims to come forward. She filed suit after hundreds of other women spoke out after Nassar was sentenced to two prison terms that will keep him behind bars for life.
"How does a person decide to face something like that?" said Buchanan, a Northville native who lives out of state. "It’s a long process."
Bender said that some of his clients have agreed to take a settlement because wrangling with MSU could take a lot more time and they wanted to move on with their lives.
But the rest are holding out for parity.
"They are all harmed as a result of what Larry Nassar did to them," Bender said.
The issue is heating up as newly hired president Samuel L. Stanley Jr. prepares to pick up the reins at MSU on Aug. 1. Many at MSU have said that healing the campus community is his top priority following years of turmoil over the Nassar scandal, which came to light in September 2016 when Rachael Denhollander publicly accused the sports doctor of abusing her during medical treatment.
Hundreds of other accusers followed, suing MSU and other institutions for failing to protect them from Nassar's abuse. Outrage at the emerging scandal culminated in the resignation of former MSU President Lou Anna Simon, who has been charged with lying to investigators.
Former MSU Interim President John Engler, a lawyer, worked on issues related to the scandal to clear the way for a new president, including the $500 million settlement, but he too was forced to resign after angering Nassar victims with comments they considered insensitive.
Some survivors have addressed the issue during meetings of the MSU Board of Trustees to remind them of the situation, and more are expected at the board's session Friday.
Amanda Thomashow, who filed the first Title IX complaint against Nassar, was part of the initial group of litigants but believes those who stepped forward later should receive the same compensation.
"Wave two of the survivors deserve the same treatment as wave one," Thomashow said. "There is no timeline on our healing process or deadline for when we feel better. This is a journey we are going to have to live with for the rest of our lives."
Thomashow added that all sexual assault survivors deserve equal treatment.
"MSU," she said, "has an opportunity to show the rest of the world what that looks like."